“Mommy! I want you to play with me!” “Mommy! Please play with me!” “Mommy, please?!”
My heart sinks and I slide my body off the couch and plop down onto the cluttered floor to fulfill my son’s request in playing superheroes with him. Again. Guilt and frustration start twirling around my head the way a ballerina doing pirouettes. I feel guilty because I want to say no to him and frustrated because I’ve given in. Again.
Saying no to my son when he asks me to play with him is something I struggle with; I don’t want to disappoint him. More times than not I can be seen giving in to him and playing dance party with plastic dolls of various sizes.
We are a single-child family, so naturally our offspring looks to us – his parents – when he wants someone to play with. Don’t get my wrong, our son is as entertaining as he is wild and playing with him can be tons of fun. However, I’m almost forty and I just don’t find the same kind of excitement in playing the games he wants to play. I don’t ride the same energy train as him either and I tend to tire after ten minutes of running around the couch playing hide-and-seek-tag.
I want to ignore the cute sound his voice makes when he says mommy, but that pesky mom-guilt gets in the way. Mom-guilt. Something most mothers I speak to feel. My mom-guilt has got her arms wrapped around me in a tight bear-hug. She gives me an ultimatum: play with your kid or feel his wrath while I sprinkle anxiety all around you for good measure. The look on his soft tiny face when I say “not now baby” makes me feel like I’m a bad mother. You know the face I’m talking about, right? The face every child masters before they can even speak. The doe-eyes that stare up at you combined with the perfectly measured-out pouted lower lip. Yeah, that one. So, against my better judgment, I allow the guilt to consume me and I give in so I can be a “good mom”.
Make no mistake, our son is not deprived of human interactions or playtime with other children. He’s at daycare five days a week, playing, painting, and developing social competence. He’s surrounded by little boys and girls his age and, according to the pictures I see, there isn’t a dull moment in sight. He continuously fills the air with confusing stories about who jumped into what play house first with which coloured blanket. Social interaction isn’t the problem here. Self-play time is.
So why do I feel bad about saying no? Because I’m too focused on being the perfect mom, or what I think the perfect mom is. The good mom. The cool mom. The amazing mom. I hate looking into those big brown eyes and refusing him. I hate making him feel rejected. I hate being the reason he’s sad.
Whoa mama. Stop right there!
This shouldn’t be about me. It’s about him. This kind of thought will end up harming him more than helping him. We know he can play on his own, we’ve seen him do it. But for some reason, we continue to follow his commands as if he is the leader of the house; king of the castle.
Reading pieces written by strong mothers and fathers explaining how it’s not their job to entertain their kids helps. It lessens the guilt. It makes me feel a bit more human and a bit less monster. I know I’m not alone and I know I too can stand my ground.
As a kid getting ready for the school years, we need to do better. We need to give him the opportunity to use his imagination and his creativity more than he already is. Our mini needs to know that sometimes people aren’t going to want to play with him, and that’s okay. The tactics he uses on us will certainly not work on his fellow peers and that will be damaging for him.
I love playing with my kid, I really do, but I also love not playing with him. I want him to be comfortable playing on his own, exploring the world and making sense of what’s around him. I want to foster his imagination and his confidence. He can’t do that with mommy and daddy hovering over him and being at his beck and call. Since we know better, it’s up to us to show him the way.
I’m not a bad mom because I don’t want to always play with my kid. I’m a bad mom if I don’t prepare him for what’s out there. My job is to love him and keep him safe all while raising him to be a productive member of society. I think that I’ve the first two covered. Now let’s work on the second part.